Lebanon News

Infiltrators fail to intimidate protesters

BEIRUT: After one of the most violent weekends since the two-month nationwide anti-government protests started, hundreds rallied close to caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Beirut residence to reject his reappointment. Hariri was likely to be designated as premier Monday during scheduled parliamentary consultations before he asked President Michel Aoun to delay the binding talks.

Monday evening, protesters marched from Downtown Beirut to the entrance of Hariri’s Downtown Beirut home.

Protesters said they wouldn’t accept Hariri even if he were to head a government of experts - the type of government hundreds of thousands of protesters have been demanding since Oct. 17.

This comes after violence marred the weekend protests as yet-to-be-identified infiltrators rocked the demonstrations. As the situation went back to normal Monday morning, cleaning teams were dispatched to clear away rocks and tear gas canisters that were thrown during the clashes.

They were also sent to clean smashed glass of shop fronts damaged during confrontations.

Caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said in an interview published in General Security’s monthly newsletter Monday that while “some mistakes were made” by ISF members, they were committed to their code of conduct and maintaining public freedoms.

After the weekend clashes began, the ISF issued a statement saying its members, mainly riot police, had practiced “self-restraint for an hour and half” while being struck by rocks and fireworks.

Nevertheless, it added that “infiltrators” had caused clashes and forced them to fire tear gas.

Hassan also called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets.

The Lebanese Army issued a statement Monday saying that its soldiers had deployed following the “chaos” to support the ISF personnel deployed and restore stability. Nine soldiers were injured, it added.

The ISF said Monday that 27 policemen and two officers were injured earlier Sunday.

During Sunday’s events, photographer from The Daily Star Mohamad Azakir was injured when he was struck in the face by a rock thrown during the clashes.

Later in the night, tents in Martyrs’ Square were set ablaze. Local media reported that those responsible for the arson attacks were members of the Parliamentary Police, which the agency denied in a statement.

Asked about the infiltrators, Hajj Abu Rami told The Daily Star from Riad al-Solh Monday that the infiltrators helped the riot police in “giving them an excuse to beat up protesters.” He alleged that they were affiliated with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and that they were from areas such as Al-Khandaq al-Ghamiq, which is a stone’s throw from Downtown Beirut.

Abu Rami, 55, said the infiltrators were affiliated with the Amal Movement and the Resistance Brigades (linked to Hezbollah).

“We know this because Lebanon is a small country and their faces are recognizable. They came to intimidate the people from protesting and there were definitely sent to do this,” he added.

But some believe that the infiltrators were a mix of Al-Khandaq residents and those from the north.

The infiltrators were a crowd from the major political parties and “we can’t just call them the guys of Al-Khandaq,” another protester said. The 28-year-old, who asked not to be identified, expressed his view that if “they came with a directive, their acts wouldn’t have stopped where they did.”

Ahmad al-Ali, 20, an interior designer from the Bekaa, told The Daily Star: “We came from the Bekaa to protest peacefully, but they tried to beat the protesters repeatedly.” He added that they were doing this as an attempt to divide the street “in a sectarian way to deviate the attention from the demands of the people.”

U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis said in a tweet that the clashes over the weekend showed that “postponements of a political solution of the current crisis create a fertile ground for provocations and political manipulation.”

He added: “Investigation of the incidents as well as of use of excessive force by the security forces is necessary, also to prevent sliding down toward more aggressive and confrontational behavior of all. Security forces forcibly dispersed protesters from in front of Nijmeh Square, the seat of the Lebanese Parliament.

Riot police fired rubber bullets, water cannons and large volumes of tear gas to break up the crowd, after some protesters threw fireworks in their direction.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2019, on page 2.

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